November 2015 Gold Cup comment: In the clear from TB

2015 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winner Neil Baker from Haselbury Plucknett in Somerset reports on the latest developments at Rushywood Farm including the herd being cleared of TB, some impressive performance of youngstock and looking at forage use in rations.

So the big news since last writing is that we’ve gone clear of TB with our next test now due in six months’ time.  The effects of running the herd around for a week during testing is quite hard to fully quantify financially.  The biggest impact is certainly not the two reactors the Ministry took during this mini outbreak—one did in fact have TB positive lung lesions, the other one had culture negative head lesions.

The real cost of TB I’d say were abortions.  We seem to get around ten abortions in the two weeks after testing, mostly in heavily pregnant cows and predominantly in just dried off cows.  I’m now planning on not drying cows off for ten days either side of my next test in February.  I believe the TB injections added to the running around, added to a group change, added to a ration change, added to stopping being milked causes the abortions.

Neil Baker keeping tabs on heifer performance.

Neil Baker keeping tabs on heifer performance.

Well before last month’s tales of my substandard milk hygiene were even printed, I had two letters arrive—one from Arla and one from Tesco telling me I had dirty milk (still).  I narrowed it down to one of our tanks over icing and therefore melting 50 litres of milk into the washing water so the chemical was being made useless.  This was caused by the tanker driver emptying the tanks while still on cool.

Another issue I found was the stainless sampler device dipper extender was not being washed and had a lot of crud on it.  The third issue I found was that some tanker drivers were shutting the valve therefore stopping wash circulation and drainage of the automatic wash systems.

These problems are not new but the things that changed for us are a lot of new staff coming on board that I simply have not trained well enough to recognise when the tank washers have or haven’t completed successfully.  The biggest issue is with reduced time between milkings and therefore less time to do a re-wash or for engineers to diagnose wash problems, fix and test.

With nearly 200 calvings in September and another 200 calvings in October, the calf unit has been stretched a little too far.  I tried a group hutch housing of beef calves, but it didn’t work too well—so we’re back as we were now on twice a day bucket feeding.

Heifer growth rates have been good over the summer, my calf TMR was a little short of protein and although growth was good, the three-to-four-month-old calves were starting to get a little pot bellied.  So a little swap of a little more rape and grass silage seems to have sorted things out.

We weighed a big chunk of our heifers on October 26th as part of a research project in conjunction with a student from RVC and Synergy Farm Vets.  I try to weigh all the heifers regularly but this time we also measured withers and hip heights.  This revealed something I never realised before that hips are on average four centimetres higher than withers.  Not a particularly useful fact, but with the height to whither so often quoted in the timing of breeding heifers, the correlation between the weights and heights could be very useful when deciding which animals are ready to breed.

Graph showing body weight of youngstock (y axis) and age in months (x axis) compared to targets.

Graph showing body weight of youngstock (y axis) and age in months (x axis) compared to targets.

The cows’ performance has remained the same even though the second cut we are feeding now is not a patch on the first cut we covered up with 100 acres of early harvested maize.  We are now feeding 4.0kg of fresh grass in the milker ration at 15% dry matter.  Can this be justified?  Should we be carrying on with the fresh grass into November?  With the grass still growing, and when I look at the heap of fresh cut grass in the yard everyday, I can’t help but think the grass is not only a very useful ingredient in the ration, but an ensiled forage saver and also a really great use of the autumn grass that otherwise would be going into sheep.

This year’s maize harvest was delayed due to the crops simply not being fit.  It seems the last five years harvest have not been plain sailing.  Is it acceptable forage anymore if we need to harvest in nearly November?  I personally think our seed houses are not doing a very good job breeding the highly digestible, high yielding, early maturing varieties that we need to make maize a viable option to grow.  Next year’s forage cropping needs a lot of thinking about before we get the plough out next spring.

The next few weeks seem to be full of meetings.  I need to focus on keeping an empty diary for the rest of the year as I’ve got lots to do and have an unhelpful habit of filling my diary when I’m meant to be getting stuff done.


Heifer performance

Total over 12 months old    635
Total under 12 months old    403
PD positive    412
% Heifers positive at PD    84.2%
% Heifer calves    42.2%
Heifers inseminated per pregnancy    1.79
Average calving age (months)    23.1
DLWG over 12 months (kg/day)    0.88
DLWG under 12 months (kg/day)    0.90


Reprinted from the November 2015 edition of British Dairying. To see the original article please visit the British Dairying website.